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Awaiting Presidential News Conference. Aired 4:30-5p ET

Aired August 4, 2016 - 16:30   ET


[16:30:00] JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: But they asked voters about Mr. Trump's feud with the Khan family, the Muslim-American Gold Star family whose son, U.S. Army Captain Khan was killed in Iraq. Sixty- nine percent of those people who new about the controversy, and that was moth of them, found Trump's response out of bounds.

How damaging is an event that like that? Because it's not a general feeling about the candidate, a specific moment. But people really knew about it and they really didn't like it.

ALEX CONANT, FORMER COMMUNICATIONS DIRECTOR FOR SEN. MARCO RUBIO: Yes. I mean, I'm somebody who watched that moment live on TV when the Khan family stood on the stage and as an American, I was proud that we live in a country where people, A, make that sort of sacrifice and then, B, are able to stand on a stage and question our leaders like that. So, I was very disappointed by the Trump's response the next day. I understand why 66 percent or whatever number in that poll would say that they disagreed with him.

Also in that poll, and I think this lends itself to it, 58 percent of Americans said that they did not believe that Trump was qualified to be president. If you assume that if you don't think something is qualified to be president, you're not going to vote for him, that is a very high, that is a very low ceiling for trump. That's a big challenge as we move in for the general election.

TAPPER: We're going to squeeze in one more quick break. Sarah, Jamal, David, Alex, stick around.

In just moments, we're expecting President Obama at that lectern, likely to get questions about that $400 million in cash that the U.S. delivered to Iran. We'll bring you that press conference live.

Stay with us.


[16:35:49] TAPPER: Welcome back to THE LEAD.

We're minutes away from a presidential press conference. President Obama at the Pentagon likely to face some difficult questions.

Until he steps to that lectern, let's continue talking to our political panel. Let me start with you, Jamal. But this is a question for both of you and for Sarah about whether your candidates have people around them who can tell them, that's not true, stop saying it.

Hillary Clinton with a local TV reporter in Colorado, repeating this idea that the director of the FBI who did say they have no reason to say she wasn't dishonest with the FBI, but she keeps saying that the FBI said that she was honest and everything she said to the American people, which is not true. Comey contradicted many, many things, that she has said to the American public.

She said this Sunday and she got four Pinocchios from "The Washington Post" fact checker and much criticism. She said it again.

Does she have anyone around her who can say, stop saying this, this is not true?

JAMAL SIMMONS, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: Well, ultimately, these things come down to the candidate, right? For a year, people I think were advising the Clinton campaign that she should just apologize, that she's sorry, she made a mistake and keep moving. But for some reason, they keep, the candidate keeps wanting to relitigate this.

This is one of these weeks, though, where Donald Trump has done so many egregious things. Hillary Clinton, the best thing they've done in the campaign is they haven't really had that many public statements, one of the candidate, which is great. Let Donald Trump do his thing for the rest of us --


TAPPER: Sarah, let me go to you with the same question, except this one is about the strange claim he made yesterday. He said he'd seen footage of the hand over of $400 million from the U.S. to Iran. He made that claim yesterday. "The Washington Post" then followed up, because nobody knew of any video like this, and the Trump spokeswoman said it was actually talking about video of Americans who have been held hostage in Iran, climbing off of a plane in Geneva. Obviously, that's not at all the same thing as $400 million being wheeled off in Tehran.

Today, Mr. Trump repeated the claim that he saw this video. Let's roll that tape.


DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENTIAL NOMINEE: Iran provided all of that footage, the tape, of taking that money off of that airplane, right? Iran released that tape, a quality like these guys have, they released that tape so that we will be embarrassed.


TAPPER: He goes on to say it is a tape of the money. This does not exist, Sarah. Is there anyone around Mr. Trump who can, the campaign has already told reporters this tape does not exist, please stop talking about it?

SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, SENIOR ADVISER, TRUMP PRESIDENTIAL CAMPAIGN: Of course, he has plenty of people around him to do that. I think the question here is the $400 million in cash. That's the question people really need be asking. And I hope that we see President Obama get asked that here in a few minutes at this press conference, because that's the American people want to know, is not about the video, but the action that took place and what role President Obama and Hillary Clinton played in it.

SIMMONS: Well, Jake, let's not have a false equivalency here. Hillary Clinton has one issue that Republicans have been talking about for a year, which is around e-mails, right? Every single thing that comes out of Donald Trump's mouth has to be fact-checked, you have to find the video. He still won't admit that he made a mistake.

The problem for the American people is that they look at Donald Trump, listen to Donald Trump, there's nothing you could trust from him and you can't have a president that will not acknowledge blanket reality at all.

TAPPER: Alex --

SANDERS: I'd hardly say Hillary Clinton only has one issue. She's made mistake after mistake and mistakes that she's made have put American lives and national security at risk. And I think that's absolutely something we should be talking about day after day after day until this election is over.


CONANT: Well, I would just say honesty is an issue in this election. Both candidate have an issue with honesty with the American people and I would think they would go out of their way to make sure their statements are accurate. Otherwise they're feeding this negative narrative that the other campaigns trying to drive on them. I don't understand, why can't they toe a more accurate line when they're speaking in the public, especially in events like the rally today where he's speaking from a script largely?

TAPPER: And, Jamal, I take your point, but let's also say if you look at polls, both Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump have significant trust issues -- the American people rather have trust issues with them.

[16:40:03] So, whether it's Donald Trump tells five lies a day, and Hillary Clinton tells one a week, whatever it is, there's still this issue.

And, David, let me ask you, as somebody who has advised presidents, how tough is it to say to the primary, the candidate, or the president, this isn't true, stop saying it?

DAVID GERGEN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: It's not tough as long as the candidates willing to listen. I mean, the problem with Donald Trump is he is like a racehorse without a jockey, you know? He's very strong on the track, but you don't win a derby without a jockey helping you get there. And he just doesn't have anybody plays that role for him. In Hillary's case, I think it's different and that is there are

certain things, she gets blind spots on and she feels -- she gets very stubborn about it and it's very, very hard to breakthrough. But there are people around like John Podesta and Bill Clinton that can do that. But, you know, there are some things she just gets stuck on.

SIMMONS: At the end of the day, Hillary Clinton is somebody we can admire. She has been a first lady, she's been an attorney, she's been secretary of state, she's been -- you know, she has moved up the ladder and held herself very well in the public eye. Donald Trump, every time we discover something new, it's something that we are completely uneasy about.

TAPPER: I want to change the subject if I can, David Gergen, let me bring you back if I can.

There's another big poll out today, a nice birthday present for President Obama who turns 55 today. He's enjoying an approval rating of 54 percent. I believe this is his highest job approval rating in 3 1/2 years, since the beginning of the second term. First of all, why do you think his job approval rating is so high? It is unusual for it to be this high at this point in the second term of a president.

GERGEN: It sure is. I think it is important to remember, Jake, that he was mired in the mid 40s and low 40s even. And he's gradually been coming up and up, around 48, 49 before the convention. I do think he got a good convention bounce, as something as she did, Mrs. Clinton.

But there's something else. I think there is nostalgia that's creeping in about President Obama as people look at the alternatives. That happens toward the end of a second term as people think you're about to leave the stage and begin thinking about the good things. I think he is benefitting from that now as people make that comparison and say, you know, if it was Hillary Clinton versus Donald Trump versus Barack Obama, is there any doubt who would win that election today?

TAPPER: All right. Let's take another quick break before President Obama comes out and goes to that lectern. Stay with us.

We'll be right back.


TAPPER: You're looking at live pictures from the Pentagon. We are expecting President Obama to come out any minute. I want to bring in our justice reporter, Evan Perez.

Evan, there has been a lot of uproar on Capitol Hill about this $400 million that was sent to Iran. The Iranians claimed it was a ransom for the release of prisoners that were released the same day.

The U.S., the Obama administration denying it. Now you have information about people in the Justice Department who had issues with this. EVAN PEREZ, CNN JUSTICE REPORTER: Well, Jake, there were some objections because, you know, essentially what this was a prison exchange. The Justice Department was objecting to the idea that there were Americans being held on flimsy charges in the view of the U.S. government in Iran.

And that we were exchanging seven Iranians who were being held on charges ranging from money laundering to providing equipment in violation of U.S. sanctions. Equipment that could be used for the Iranian military.

So there was a lot of objections inside the Justice Department about the fact that this was being done, and they also felt that the optics just weren't right with regard to the settlement of the -- sending this money as a settlement of this legal claim that had been going on for decades.

TAPPER: And also I understand that some of the Justice Department were concerned that even if the United States was saying this isn't ransom, the fact that the Iranians viewed it that way and we're going to say that.

PEREZ: That's right. And one of the issues that we've already seemed to come to past is this concern that it only encourages the Iranians to take more Americans prisoner and to charge them with these flimsy things.

We've already seen it come to past in some ways. We've had three Americans since this deal has come to pass, three Americans are now being held by the Iranians and in some ways those are the concerns that everybody had about doing this prisoner exchange as part of this Iran deal.

TAPPER: And of course, another issue, of course, was that the $400 million was shipped to the Iranians in a way to get around sanctions against Iran. It was in Euros and Swiss Francs and other currencies because the law did not allow U.S. dollars to be transferred to the Iranians.

PEREZ: Right, the way to do this, the proper way --

TAPPER: Here is President Obama, I'm sorry to interrupt you. Here he is, President Obama at the Pentagon.

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: Good afternoon to everybody. I just met again with my National Security Council on the campaign to destroy ISIL.

I want to thank Secretary Carter and Chairman Dunford (ph), who just returned from meetings with our coalition partners in the Middle East for hosting us and for their continued leadership of our men and women in uniform.

I last updated the American people on our campaign in June shortly after the horrifying attack in Orlando. In the weeks since, we've continued to be relentless in our fight against ISIL. On the ground in Syria and Iraq, ISIL continue to lose territory. Tragically however, he have also seen that ISIL still has the ability to direct and inspire our attacks.

So we have seen terrible bombings in Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, Yemen, and Afghanistan. Attacks on an Istanbul airport, a restaurant in Bangladesh, Bastille celebrations, a church in France, and a music festival in Germany.

[16:50:11]In fact, the decline of ISIL in Syria and Iraq appears to be causing it to shift to tactics that we've seen before and even for greater emphasis on encouraging high profile terrorist attacks including in the United States.

As always our military, diplomatic, intelligence, homeland security and law enforcement professionals are working around the clock with other countries and with communities here at home to share information and prevent such attacks.

And over the years they've prevented many, but as we've seen, it is still very difficult to detect and prevent lone actors or small cells of terrorists who are determined to kill the innocent and are willing to die.

And that's why as we discussed today we are going to keep going after ISIL aggressively across every front of this campaign. Our air campaign continues to hammer ISIL targets.

More than 14,000 strikes so far. More than 100,000 sorties including those hitting the ISIL core in Raqqa and in Mosul. In a stark contrast to ISIL, which uses civilians as human shields, America's Armed Forces will continue to do everything in our power to avoid civilian casualties.

With our extraordinary technology, we are conducting the most precise air campaign in history. After all, it is the innocent civilians of Syria and Iraq, who are suffering the most and who need to be saved from ISIL's terror.

And so when there are allegations of civilian casualties, we take them very seriously. We work to find the fact to be transparent and to hold ourselves accountable for doing better in the future.

We continue to take out senior ISIL leaders and commanders. This includes ISIL's deputy minister of war, (inaudible), a top commander in Mosul. (Inaudible) and in yet another significant loss for ISIL, its minister of war, (inaudible).

None of ISIL's leaders are safe and we are going to keep going after them. On the ground in Iraq, local forces keep pushing ISIL back.

In a major success, Iraqi forces with coalition support finally liberated Fallujah. Now they are ISIL fighters for areas up the (inaudible) Valley and Iraqi forces retook the strategic air base just 40 miles from Mosul, now the last major ISIL stronghold in Iraq. Given the success, the additional 560 U.S. support personnel that I ordered to Iraq last month will help turn this base into a logistical hub and launch pad for Iraqi forces as they push into Mosul.

Meanwhile in Syria, a coalition of local forces backed by our special operations forces and air strikes continues to take the fight to ISIL as well. The coalition is fighting its way into the town of Monditch.

A gate way for ISIL fighters coming in and terrorists heading out to attack Europe, which is why ISIL is fighting hard to hold it.

As ISIL is beaten back, we are gaining vast amounts of intelligence, thousands of documents, thumb drives, digital files, which we will use to keep destroying ISIL's networks and stop foreign fighters.

We also continue to intensify our efforts against al Qaeda and Syria, which no matter what name it calls itself cannot be allowed to maintain a safe haven to train and plot attacks against us.

I do want to step back and note the broader progress that has been made in this campaign so far. Two years ago, ISIL was racing across Iraq to the outskirts of Baghdad itself and to many observers ISIL looked invincible.

Since then in Iraq, ISIL has lost at the (inaudible) Dam, Tikrit, (inaudible), Sinjar, Ramadi, Hit, Rutba (ph) and now Fallujah. In Syria, ISIL has lost Kubani (ph) and Telebaja (ph) and the Tishrin Dam (ph) and Alshadadi (ph).

ISIL has lost territory across vast stretches of the border with Turkey and almost all major transit routes into Raqqa. In both Iraq and Syria, ISIL has not been able to reclaim any significant territory that they have lost.

So I want to repeat, ISIL has not had a major successful offensive operation in either Syria or Iraq in a full year. Even ISIL's leaders know they will keep losing. Their message to followers, they're increasingly acknowledging that they may lose Mosul and Raqqa.

And ISIL was right, they will lose them. We will keep hitting them and pushing them back and driving them out until they do. In other words, ISIL turns out not to be invincible, they are, in fact, inevitably going to be defeated.

[16:55:11]But we do recognize at the same time that the situation is complex and this cannot be solved by military force alone. That's why last month, the United States and countries around the world pledged more than $2 billion in new funds to help Iraqi stabilize and rebuild their communities.

That's why we're working with Iraq so that the military campaign to liberate to Mosul is matched with humanitarian and political efforts to protect civilians and promote inclusive governance and development. So ISIL cannot return by exploiting divisions or new grievances.

In Syria, as I've repeatedly said, defeating ISIL and al Qaeda requires an end to the civil war and the Assad regime's brutality against the Syrian people, which pushes people into the arms of extremists.

The regime and its allies continue to violate the cessation of hostilities including with vicious attacks on defenceless civilians. Medieval sieges against cities like Aleppo and blocking food from reaching families that are starving.

It is deplorable and the depravity of the Syrian regime has rightly earned the condemnation of the world. Russia's direct involvement in these actions over the last several weeks raises very serious questions about their commitment to pulling the situation back from the brink.

The U.S. remains prepared to work with Russia to try to reduce the violence and strengthen our efforts against ISIL, al Qaeda, and Syria. But so far Russia has failed to take the necessary steps.

Given the deteriorating situation, it is time for Russia to show it is serious about pursuing these objectives. Beyond Syria and Iraq, we'll keep working with allies and partners to go after ISIL wherever it tries to spread.

At the request of Libya's Government of National Court, we are conducting strikes in support of government-aligned forces as they try to retake Sert from ISIL and we will continue to support the government's efforts to secure their country.

In Afghanistan, one of the reasons that I've decided to largely maintain our current force posture so that we could keep eliminating ISIL's presence there. We delivered another blow last month when we took out a top ISIL leader in Afghanistan, Umar Kalifa (ph).

Finally, it should be clear by now, and no one knows this better than our military leaders that even as we need to crush ISIL on the battlefield, their military defeat will not be enough.

So long as their twisted ideology persists, and drives people to violence then groups like ISIL will keep emerging and the international community will continue to be at risk in getting sucked into the global whack-a-mole where we're always reacting to the latest threat or lone actor.

That is why we're also working to counter violent extremism more broadly including the social, economic, and political factors that help fuel groups like ISIL and al Qaeda in the first place.

Nothing will do more to discredit ISIL and its phony claims to being a caliphate than losing its base in Raqqa and Mosul. We are going to keep working with partners including Muslim countries and communities especially online to expose ISIL for what they are.

Murderers who kill innocent people including Muslim families and children as they break their Ramadan fast, and set off bombs at one of the holiest sites in Islam. Moreover, we refuse to let terrorists and voices of division undermine the unity and the values of diversity and pluralism that keep our nation strong.

One of the reasons that America's Armed Forces are the best in the world is because we draw on the skills and the talents of all of our citizens from all backgrounds and faiths including patriotic Muslim- Americans, who risked and give their lives for our freedom.

I think the entire world was inspired this past Sunday when Muslims across France joined their Catholic neighbors at mass and in a moving display of solidarity prayed together. The greeting they extended to each other has to be the message we echo in all of our countries and all of our communities. Peace be with you and also with you.

Now before I take some questions, I want also to say a few words on another topic. As our public health experts have been winning for some time, we are now seeing the first locally transmitted cases of the Zika virus by mosquitos in the continental United States.

This was predicted and predictable. So far we have seen 15 cases in the Miami area. We're taking this extremely seriously. Our CDC experts are on the ground working shoulder to shoulder with Florida health authorities.

There is a very aggressive effort under way to control mosquitos there and pregnant women have been urged to stay away from the particular neighbourhood that we're focused on.

We will keep working as one team, federal, state, and local, to try to slow and limit the spread of the virus.